A Call to Action

It usually seems appropriate to start a blog post with some kind of witty anecdote or deep, meaningful quotation. But no amount of wit or mask of implied depth would be an appropriate introduction to the topic of slavery.

It has been fairly easy up until the past few months to a year to believe the false assumption that slavery in the United States died with the thirteenth amendment. I mean, we all learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery.

If you're like me, whenever you heard the word "slavery" you immediately conjured up mental images of ships full of African natives, reminiscent of scenes from Amistad. And yes, those scenes did happen. There were hundreds of thousands of innocent people ripped away from their homes and families and sold to the highest bidders, only to find themselves in a strange land with strange people, strange language and strange customs. Not to mention the horrible ways they were treated, being beaten, raped, and even killed for not pleasing their masters.

But slavery runs so much deeper than merely being an issue of black and white. And despite the best efforts of our forefathers, slavery is still very much alive today, in America and around the world.

I knew this, of course, in a vague, distant sort of way. The sort of way that doesn't really touch me if I don't look at it.

How many people have suffered because I turned away?

God sent me an eye-opener this week in the form of a film called Trade of Innocents. The university I attended for my freshman and sophomore years hosted an event on Monday night in which they held an exclusive screening of the film as well as a question & answer time with the screenwriter/director Christopher Bessette afterward. Not to mention the fact that they had tables set up in the lobby for their social justice department and several organizations that fight human trafficking here in Tennessee, including End Slavery Tennessee and Abolition International. I scooped up several pamphlets, information sheets, and even purchased a bracelet from To Be Free, an extension of Abolition International that sets up and supports after-care for women and girls who have been rescued from sex slavery.

And this was all before I saw the film.

I found my movie buddy and we sat down on the bleachers in the campus church's gym. After some brief introductions of students who worked on marketing the film, the movie started.

Aesthetically the film was beautifully made. The scenery is lush, the music is lovely, the actors are phenomenal.

But beyond that, it tells the heart-wrenching story of girls - some as young as five - who are stolen from their homes and off the streets of Cambodia and sold as sex slaves to "sex tourists." I cried for probably half of the movie.

At the end of the credits, the director of the university's social justice department introduced Christopher Bessette, the film's screenwriter and executive director. He answered questions as to his motives behind the film, why he did certain things creatively, and resources for more information on human trafficking today.

One of the things that struck me most was his description of the moment he knew he had to make this film. He said he had gone to Cambodia and visited a former-brothel-now-safe-house and stood in what used to be called "The Virgin Room," looking down through a barred window at children playing in the street below. He thought, "Sometime, not too long ago, a little girl might have stood at this very window, looking down at children playing, and thinking to herself, 'Why can't I be down there too?'" And he said he got chills and breathed the prayer, "Oh, God, help me tell her story."

That is what he did with this film.

And the only way we can hope to abolish human trafficking - slavery of any kind - whether it is sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or something else, is by telling the victims' stories. There are so many people in the world right now who are like I was a year ago - untouched by this issue because they fear to get a good enough glimpse at it.

But we can't afford to turn away any longer.

According to End Slavery Tennessee:

*Every minute, two children are trafficked (worldwide).

*There are currently around 27 million slaves in the world. Of those, half are minors and 80% are female.

*The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 12 and 14 years old.

*One-third of runaways will be sexually exploited within 48 hours of leaving home; 90% will end up in commercial sex trade.

These children are in our neighborhoods, on our doorstep, in our back yards. You don't have to go to Cambodia to find human trafficking. It's happening right here, right now. When will we stop looking away and finally do something?

God lit the fire under me this week, and the wheels have been turning as I've been trying to discover how I can best use the gifts and talents God has given me to help put a stop to this horrific monster we call slavery and human trafficking. I have some ideas.

What about you? What will you do? Will you look into the eyes of the Innocents and reach out your hand to help?

Or will you turn away?

Being Fruitful

The act of creating is supposed to be pleasurable. Overwhelmingly pleasurable.

Not work. I mean, sure, you can get worked up about it. Like, your heart beats faster, you're energized.

But it should be something enjoyable, invigorating, inspiring, and perhaps even a bit of a stress reliever.

No, I'm not talking about sex.

Well, not entirely.

Sex is the most primal act of creativity. It's been around, oh, pretty much since the beginning of human history. I mean, if not, we wouldn't all be here.

But, we create in other ways also.

We write. We paint. We draw. We make music. We design. We act. We imagine.

So, why do these things become so difficult? So mundane?

I am listening right now to Red, one of my favorite bands ever. Their music has what I would describe as an epic quality. Many of their songs have something in them that makes my stomach feel like I just went down the first hill of a roller coaster. It's not just the lyrics, either, though they are good. It's the music itself.

Have you ever listened to music, or read a piece of writing, or viewed a piece of artwork, that stirred something deep within you? Something that seemed arousing, but to your spirit rather than your senses?
You feel something rise within you, a response to what you're experiencing. But you can't quite describe it. It's like something in the piece of art you're experiencing has made a connection with your soul. And you don't want to leave. You want to just take it in, stay right here, listen one more time, hold the words in your heart and repeat them over and over again. Because this experience seems right. That connection we feel, that thing that cannot be described, is our soul getting a taste of God. Call it touching the hem of Jesus' robe if you will. It is small, but it is so huge.

And there is something so absolutely right in creating or experiencing creativity. Because it's what we were designed for. We were made to create. To imagine. To give of the deepest part of ourselves in ways to which other people can relate.

Any creative act is ultimately both an act of giving and of trust. And those two things are intrinsically intertwined.

Just as with sex, you cannot give of yourself fully unless you trust your partner completely. Same with creating and God. If we hold anything back, it is because of a lack of trust. And holding back in an act of creativity leaves us feeling disappointed, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and even empty.

If you have something in your soul that is crying to take shape, you feel it, even when you ignore it. It's there. A small pulsing, a throbbing ache, an insatiable need that goes beyond desire. Maybe you try to ignore it by working longer hours. Or putting your energy into some other thing, like cleaning the garage. Or maybe you drown it, by watching movies or playing video games. Because there's something you're holding back. Or maybe you only pretend to be creative - maybe you should be writing, but instead of writing what you need to write, you throw all your energy into "research." (I'm totally preaching to myself here, if you haven't noticed...)

Why not open yourself up to God in unabashed trust?  He is the one that put that desire within you. And He is the one that can fulfill that desire.

God wants to create with you, in you, through you.

Don't hold back. It just hurts. If you are holding back, examine your heart. See what lies there. Are you afraid that what you'll create will make waves? People won't understand you, you'll be criticized - perhaps by those you love?

God is bigger than that. And maybe that thing you have to create is just what those people need to hear. Or read. Or see.

Trust God in this act of creativity. In trusting and giving of yourself, something beautiful can happen.

And it's exciting. And it feels good.

Because when you trust and give everything that's in you, that act of creativity fulfills you. And you might be surprised at the results.

With God working in you, it's guaranteed to turn out better than you expected. Certainly better than anything you could do on your own.

New Day


For the past several years, I have been feeling in the deepest parts of my spirit that some sort of change was coming for me, for my family. I've had no clue as to what kind of change that might be, though we felt the beginning stirrings of it almost 2 years ago when God moved us from one church home and planted us in another. But I feel that the change, whatever it is, may be nearing its culmination.

I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately. There are a number of things going on contributing to this stress, but the current that constantly runs beneath all of it is the fact that I still have not fully dealt with the death of my daughter over four years ago. And that has influenced how I handle things - big things as well as little things. Things like interactions with my husband, my outlook on life, and even how I am raising the two children I now have. I am very aware that this issue needs to be dealt with, and I am taking steps toward dealing with it. But in the meantime, my stress levels have been gradual building.

Today, I was driving around after dropping off my husband at work. The kids were asleep in their car seats in the back, and I was conversing in my head with God. We are on the cusp of so many possibilities - a possible house, possible school for my husband, possible preschool for my daughter - and for so long it has just felt like my life has been bound up in the unknown. I feel like I have been tossed about, jarred against one wall and then another, until I finally stopped fighting it and let myself be bruised and broken from the jarring. And all of a sudden, as I was silently talking with God, silently weeping as I drove, this phrase just stuck in my head - "New day." It was almost like a voice spoke it. And without forethought, my whole being suddenly began crying out to God, resonating with the phrase - "New day! New day! New day! New day! New day!" I didn't vocalize it, but I was crying, and if I had actually said it out loud, it would have been gut wrenching and without breaths between the words.

It was the first time I have had a prayer wrack my body to the core.

And I'm not even sure what the prayer meant. And by that I mean, I did not plan that prayer, didn't think it out. It just...poured out of me. I think that was literally the Spirit praying for me. It was an intense experience. For those several seconds, all that consumed my mind, my heart, my soul, and even my body, was "New day!"

I feel like we will begin to see answers within the next month. And while I am not sure exactly what this "new day" will entail, I am eager to find out. And with all my being, I will look for it.







Pieces


I don't really know who I am anymore. My life now is so different than it was three, four, five years ago, I almost don't recognize myself. It's like I've been broken, or lost. And I have been both of those things. And it's taking a long, long time to find myself again.

When I'm lucky enough to get a shower, it's usually so rushed that I barely get my clothes on (usually frumpy pj's or their equivalent), let alone getting my hair brushed. Which means that it ends up a knotted mass stuffed into a ponytail of sorts. Usually it stays that way for several days before I even get a chance to do my hair, and by then I have to dig out the ponytail holder from my matted mass of hair, slowly and painstakingly pulling single strands of hair from the dreaded knots as I go.

My house is a mess. I feel like I am constantly at war with it, trying to keep the floor clean. And forget about dishes! Any attempt at having the cupboards full is quickly foiled by the cries of my fussy children who are either having a meltdown or ready for a nap.

With the little bit of brain I find at the end of the day, the only functions it's good for are checking facebook and reading short, meaningless clips of writing. I used to read voraciously. I would devour books by Lewis and Tolkein. I wanted to study everything having anything to do with the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I even wanted to dress like a medieval fairy. For every day things.

I was fanciful, whimsical. Positive. I saw the good in people more than the bad. I enjoyed sitting by brooks and listening to the water fall over the stones. And I made time to do it.

Now, I am harried, forgetful, probably inconsiderate at times, but that's due mostly to being forgetful. I can't remember if I already told you a story. I'm often frustrated, negative. Sometimes so worn out I look around at the mess and just don't care, because I know it will just look like this again tomorrow if I clean it now.

Every once in a while, though, in the midst of the chaos of my life, I perceive a glimpse of God. It's like entering an abandoned house cluttered with old, dusty things, and as you take a step, your eyes are pierced by the blinding brightness of some glimmering object. Suddenly the wreck of a house takes on new meaning with the knowledge that there may be something deeper to the mess around you - somewhere in here is a story waiting to be excavated.

I know that there are stories waiting in the dark places of my chaos and clutter. I find pieces here and there, and as I find them - as God reveals them - I store them away in some file drawer in my brain. Eventually - perhaps not until the other side of life - my story will be excavated, and the Archaeologist will piece together this broken mess, carefully and painstakingly gluing together each shining, reflective piece of glass, until my story stands again, whole, complete.

I may not see how all my pieces come together. But I know that even the little things - these moments I'm living in, now, these broken, messy, chaotic moments - are part of something bigger than myself. I may not be able to make sense of them now. But one day, perhaps, I will look back on this time, and see a glimmering piece of something, reflecting a blinding Light into my eyes, and I will stop, and bend down, and pick up the piece.

And I will smile.



The Immensity of God

Lately, I've just been really feeling the fact that we have no clue as to the immensity of God. I think in the modern church, we've gotten comfortable with the idea that we understand God - I mean, He took human form in Jesus, so, everything that Jesus is/was, is all that God is, because it's what we could see. But I think that God only made part of Himself understandable, relatable, and that's the part that became Jesus.

But God is so much bigger, even bigger than Jesus.

And I think that's where the church gets stuck.

Because we tend to see Jesus as the end product of our search: if you have Jesus, you have everything you need.

But if we look closely, Jesus himself told us otherwise.

He is our conduit to the Father God: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)

God is greater than Jesus: "...If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John 14:28b)

The whole point of Jesus coming was to reunite us with God. The Israelites had a terrible history of coming to God, worshiping Him wholeheartedly, and then turning away to idols. God LOVED them so much - loved all of humankind so much - that He decided the only way He could be close to us, the way He really desired, was if He sacrificed Himself. And so He placed a part of Himself into the person of Jesus and did just that - God sacrificed Himself to be with us.

Jesus said He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He became the fulfillment of all the laws of cleanliness, sacrifice, and offerings that we could never live up to - all the laws that God established because He is holy and we fell from His presence - so that we could easily be reconnected with God Himself. That was why Jesus came - to tear down the walls that we humans had put up between ourselves and God - because GOD wanted to be with us.

Is Jesus important, then?

Absolutely.

Without Him, we would not be able to connect with God.

But let us not miss the point of His coming. We have turned Jesus into the only God - almost all of our focus ends up on Him.

But He came to be our connecting point to God, who Jesus Himself claims is so much greater than He is.

I think that, by boxing God into the person of Jesus - essentially limiting God's immensity to what we know of the person of Jesus - we are limiting our relationship with God, and we are missing out on a whole lot of awesomeness.

Even in the Old Testament, David and others cried out to know God, longing for Him, for His presence ("As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God." Psalm 42:1). At that time, they didn't have the law automatically fulfilled for them. There was a process to go through to be able to connect with God, and the average person couldn't do it directly, but had to go through a priest.

Jesus came so that we no longer have to jump through hoops to get to God. He came because God is, and was, and always has been, our ultimate goal.

The Importance of Story

I don't know why I've run from my calling for so long.

And perhaps "run from" is not necessarily the best choice of words. Perhaps I should say "ignored what God has been telling me about (my calling for so long)."

I've known for a long time that story is my passion. I love reading - always have, always will. Give me a good book and a comfy chair and a cold rainy day and a cozy sweater and I'm good. And I've always loved writing. I've written poetry, lyrics, children's stories, and I'm working on a couple of novels. And I have a few more ideas in my head, floating around, running into each other every once in a while to create still more ideas.

But for a long time, I've considered my desire to work with and in stories silly. "No way, God. An English degree is really rather stupid. I mean, what kind of ministry can I do with that?"

And tonight it all became clear.

I attended the Centennial Celebration of the Church of the Nazarene at Trevecca Nazarene University tonight and heard Nina Gunter, one of the general superintendents of the denomination, speak. And although she spoke a lot about trusting in God, believing in ordinary people, and expecting great things, two phrases stuck in my mind for the entire service:

              "Tell your story. Listen to other people tell their stories."

That was it. That is when I realized - fully and for the first time - that my calling is in stories. In that moment, all my previous issues, all my wrestlings with God over the subject, ceased.

I was meant to minister through story.

And to back it up biblically (because I always have to do that for myself - I can't base something solely on "feeling" - I need to know that God confirms it), I thought about Jesus. He always was telling parables to the people, simple little illustrations that they could understand but which held within them truth-diamonds that shone the light of the Kingdom of God.

The stories Jesus told range from those about farmers and crops to wedding feasts. He created situations and characters that his listeners and followers could relate to, and then explained how each story told another story - His story, God's story.

And that is what my calling is. Not only to write stories that minister to people, but to teach others how to capture the essence of that other-ness that draws us into the story, that thing that plucks at our souls and makes us want to be more than what we are now. That thing that takes our lives from ordinary to extraordinary.

I want to help people find God in the story and find the story in God.

Pottery by God

Last week in church, as we were singing our worship songs, a vision struck me. We were singing the words, "You're the potter, I'm the clay; mold and make me yours today," and I suddenly had this vision:

I was standing in a room full of all kinds of pottery. There were plates, mugs, bowls, saucers, basins, pitchers, etc. All different shapes, sizes, colors. Some glazed, some unglazed. Some with ridges, some smooth. Some up high on shelves, some on counter-tops, some on benches. There was a potting wheel, too. And all around the room was a feeling of work in progress - it felt like the potter was never going to be done potting.

And I began to realize that, beyond the cliche of the potter and the clay, God really does mold us. He shapes us with his hands. And each of us is made for something different. Plates are made to serve food to people, pitchers to pour out water, vases to hold flowers. A plate cannot ever be a vase, and a vase cannot be a bowl, and a bowl cannot be a pitcher, and a pitcher cannot be a plate. If the plate were to choose not to do the plate's job, then it would be placed on a shelf, because it could not do anything else. And once it decided to do what it was made to do, it would have to be thoroughly cleaned inside and out before it could be used for its purpose again.

Even in sets of things - like a service of eight plates, for instance - each plate is slightly different from the rest, because each was hand-shaped by the potter. The ridges and swells may be wider or smaller, or there may be more or fewer. The coloring may vary, the shininess of the glaze may be duller or brighter. Each one is extraordinary, because there is no ordinary when each thing is hand-made.

And I realized, as I looked around that potting room, that we are clay and God is the Potter. We must each do what we were made to do. Some of us were made to be pastors, and we will never be satisfied until we are doing what we were called to do. Some were made to be writers, or artists, or teachers, or managers, or musicians, or fighter pilots. And we must each do what we are called to do. We can run from it all we like, but we will never be happy - really happy - until we are performing the function for which God made us.

So, if you are a pitcher, stop trying to be a vase. Sure, perhaps you can hold flowers nicely. But everyone knows that a pitcher's purpose is to pour out water for thirsty people. So be the pitcher you were meant to be. Or if you are a plate, stop trying to be a mug. Stop fighting what God made you to be, and be who you are in Christ.

(I'm pretty sure I'm an inkwell.)